Google Wallet Relaunches and Takes on PayPal at Its Own Game

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2 August 2012
Zilvinas Bareisis
They say, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." In my report last year I contrasted Google Wallet and PayPal as representatives of two fundamentally distinct approaches seeking to win in the battle to bring mobile payments to the high street. Not anymore - having failed to ignite the market in the first 12 months and its first incarnation, Google Wallet re-launched yesterday with a revised approach, essentially taking a leaf out of PayPal's book. Unlike PayPal, the "Google Wallet 2.0" will continue to focus on NFC technology. However, instead of storing all the payment credentials on the secure element inside the phone, it is moving most of them into the cloud, leaving inside the phone only a prepaid account, which is based on MasterCard's PayPass and can be used anywhere where PayPass is accepted. The prepaid account is linked direcly to any of the debit or credit payment cards (MasterCard, Visa, Amex, Discover), which the customers can register themselves, just like they would register a card as a funding source for a PayPal account. More details on the new Google Wallet here. So, what does this mean and who are going to be the winners and losers? It's early days, of course, but here are some of my preliminary thoughts:
  • Consumers, Google and payment networks, especially MasterCard, are likely to emerge as the winners here. Consumers are now in control and can register and manage their cards directly with Google, independent of their banks. They will have to learn to trust Google, which has some work to do to re-establish its image after the initial security concerns. However, as and when consumers come on board, this will be good news for Google and its card partners.
  • While Google continues to stick with NFC for the "last mile" technology, MNOs will continue to have a say in this game. However, this set up now lays the ground for Google to potentially decide to bypass the secure element, and the MNOs, in the future altogether.
  • The impact on banks is likely to be mixed. Most banks didn't want to play with Google when it was offering the opportunity to digitalise their payments credentials directly and remain in control of the payments portion of the transaction. Now, while the bank cards will continue to be part of the transcation, they are clearly taking the back seat and will have to deal with Google as a "merchant of record" for their transactions. True, they won't have to incur the extra costs of provisioning their card credentials on to secure element, but that would also rule them out from participating in other NFC ventures, such as Isis.
  • The biggest unknown is the impact on merchants. And that's because the transaction economics are no longer obvious for Google Wallet and is a question I am most keen to find out more about. In the initial set-up Google was clear that they would not take a cut on the payment transaction and the merchant would have paid a standard fee depending on the card used. Now, from the merchant point of view, they are accepting a prepaid MasterCard, while it might an Amex card that actually funds the transaction. PayPal deals with it by having direct acquiring relationships with its merchants and offering them a discount rate which represents an expected blend of funding transactions. Does it also mean that Google Wallet will have to establish relationships with the acquirers to re-coup from merchants any potential differences in transaction costs? Or will it have to charge the end user for "loading" their wallet, something that other prepaid card providers do for card-based re-load transactions?
It's Day 1 after re-launch and, naturally, there are more questions than answers. Only time will tell how successful Google Wallet 2.0 will be, but for now it feels like a step in the right direction, at least from Google's perspective.

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